— by James Montgomery, with additional reporting by Matt Paco
When Jibbs was 8 years old, all he wanted to do was beat some butts and make some beats.
The son of a musician-turned-boxer, Jibbs (born Jovan Kampbell) had watched his older brothers rack up victories on the amateur-boxing circuit and make hits for a host of rappers in his native St. Louis. But he was always too young to step into the ring or the studio.
"My brothers were into boxing, and my older brother was part of Da Beatstaz, who were making hits for Nelly and Chingy. But I was never allowed to do anything," the now-15-year-old MC laughs. "I couldn't wait to get into the ring because I used to watch my brothers do it all the time. Then they would win fights and go out of town, and I had to stay. I would get mad all the time, and I just couldn't wait until I turned 8 so I could go ahead and start fighting."
So on his 8th birthday not only did he hit the ring — where he would go on to win two Golden Gloves amateur titles — he also began to attack the rap game, first as a member of St. Louis mini-mites the Little Louies and then as a full-fledged solo artist. And while Jibbs never doubted his own lyrical prowess ("I was just starting out, but I was hot," he said), he had a more difficult time convincing his big brother, producer DJ Beats.
"He was producing for everybody in the city, and I was like, 'Man, I could do this. This is what I want to do. I want to rap!' So I used to go to him about it all the time like, 'Let me get into the studio,' and you know he always gonna play the little brother off," Jibbs recalled. "So he kept doing that, he kept being like, 'Aight, I'll get you. I'll listen to you,' and he never ended up listening. So I just did it on my own.
Determined to show up his older brother, Jibbs and a friend got to work writing lyrics. The only problem is that they didn't have a beat to rap over. So they turned to the Internet.
"We used to be on the Internet all the time, searching for beats," Jibbs said. "And eventually, we found one, we jacked it off the Internet. So I recorded my rhymes on this little computer program, all by myself. I wasn't about to wait on nobody, and that's the mentality I had all my life."
The next day, Jibbs dropped the song off at his brother's studio and expected to hear nothing for a few weeks. But something amazing happened: His brother called him back that afternoon, telling him to get down to the studio ASAP, because he wanted to re-record the song and get it out on the mixtape circuit.
"It was crazy," Beats said. "You know how good music just grabs you? That's pretty much what happened: It just grabbed me. I called all my partners who produced, all my friends, and I was like, 'Dude, you gotta hear this.' So I made him come back, and I immediately took him in the basement, re-recorded it, and that's how we started working together."
Jibbs spent the next few years making songs and gaining a reputation on the St. Louis circuit, opening for artists like Chris Brown, Bow Wow and Young Jeezy when they came through on tours. And while Jibbs' lyrics were hot, his freestyling ability was even hotter, and soon he became better known for his boxer-like mentality in lyrical battles.
"I was beating cats who were 18, 24 years old, and I wasn't much older than 11," Jibbs said. "I looked at it like a fight: You gotta be in shape for it, otherwise you'll go into that ring, and you'll get knocked out. There's no time for rest. It's always crunch time."
And with a red-hot reputation, Jibbs inked a deal with Geffen Records. He spent his 14th year working on the songs that would make up his debut, Jibbs Featuring Jibbs (which is due in October), and when he turned 15, he dropped his first single, the powerballin' "Chain Hang Low," which within a matter of months has racked up more than 30,000 ringtone downloads.
But if you think all the hype has gone to Jibbs' head, well, then you obviously haven't been following his story this far. He's viewing his fame as just another opponent in the ring. And he's not looking for a T.K.O.
"I always stay focused," he said. "I don't let nothing get in my way. And I'm looking to knock this fame thing out. Like I say, 'Keep your faith, and don't let nobody tell you that you can't do it.' If somebody tell you that, laugh in their face and go do it even better."
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